Challenges Remain for Jon Jones in the Light Heavyweight Division

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Challenges Remain for Jon Jones in the Light Heavyweight Division

Jon Jones is steadily making his case for being the greatest mixed martial artist of all time.

It feels strange describing a 25-year-old as one of the best fighters to ever step inside the cage, but the results speak for themselves, and the young phenom has certainly delivered during his short time in the sport.

The light heavyweight champion has carved a path of destruction throughout the 205-pound weight class, leaving a trail of former champions and MMA legends in his wake. The truth of the matter is that Jones simply does not defeat great fighters—he destroys them in a fashion both brutal and impressive.

In the aftermath of his most recent victory this past weekend at UFC 159 in Newark, talk has once again ramped up about a potential superfight between "Bones" and the fighter currently recognized as the G.O.A.T, Anderson Silva. While a clash with "The Spider" would undoubtedly produce the biggest fight in the history of mixed martial arts, at this point it is still a pipe dream. 

In addition to a showdown with Silva, there is also swirling talk about Jones' proposed move to the heavyweight division quickly approaching. The thought of Jones testing his slick skills and finesse against a collection of physical monsters is appealing, but before he makes the jump into the heavyweight picture, there are several challenges still lurking around the light heavyweight division for him to conquer.

Here is a look at three interesting stylistic matchups for the dominant young champion.

 

Alexander Gustafsson

While Jones has been smashing the competition at the top of the light heavyweight division, Alexander Gustafsson has quietly been moving closer to a title shot. The 26-year-old Swede has put together an impressive six-fight win streak, knocking off a collection of proven veterans in the process and positioning himself firmly in the contender conversation.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Despite being forced out of his scheduled bout with Gegard Mousasi at UFC on Fuel TV 9 due to a cut suffered in training, "The Mauler" remains one of the best options to face the pound-for-pound great—a notion that Jones agrees with.

At the post-fight press conference for UFC 159, when asked about whom he would like to face next, the light heavyweight champion stated a matchup with Gustafsson would be interesting to him. The Team Alliance fighter is a lengthy fighter who uses his range effectively and would present a unique variety of challenges which Jones has yet to face in his career.

At the same time, Gustafsson's past performance against Phil Davis proved the surging contender has difficulty with high-level wrestling—a talent Jones brings in force. Then again, Gustafsson's fight with Davis was two years ago. As the rest of his skill set has developed, it would be easy to assume his grappling has improved as well.

Whether Gustafsson's defensive wrestling has evolved to a place where he can keep Jones from putting him on his back is the big question hovering around this potential fight. If Gustafsson can't keep Jones off him, the chances of winning the fight would scurry out of the Octagon in quick fashion.

 

Phil Davis

In terms of an interesting stylistic matchup for Jones, Phil Davis has the potential to cause some problems for the young champion. As a former NCAA Division I national champion wrestler, Davis has some serious chops in the grappling department. Having such decorated pedigree has allowed the San Diego-based fighter room to develop the additional aspects of his skill set as he's moved up the divisional ladder.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

While he has made a case to be recognized as an elite light heavyweight, in mixed martial arts timing is everything, and Davis is just now turning the corner.

In late 2011, the idea of a Jones vs. Davis bout didn't seem too far off, but after "Mr. Wonderful" lost an unanimous decision to Rashad Evans, the heat on that talk cooled considerably. To make matters worse, Davis spent his next two fights locked in a strange career limbo dance with Wagner Prado, a situation where the 28-year-old eventually emerged victorious.

The Pennsylvania native took another step toward the top of the division this past weekend when he defeated Vinny Magalhaes in lopsided fashion at UFC 159. The victory has Davis back knocking on the upper tier where he belongs, and with another win over a high-profile opponent, it wouldn't be difficult to imagine a bout with Jones coming to fruition.

 

Daniel Cormier

While it's drifting into the hypothetical, Daniel Cormier could pose a legit threat to the title reign of Jon Jones. The former Olympian has been talking about dropping down into light heavyweight waters for the past several months, and with his close friend and training partner Cain Velasquez holding the heavyweight crown, the move seems like the only option "D.C." would have to fulfill his championship hopes.

USA TODAY Sports

The AKA staple has proved capable of controlling every opponent he faces inside the cage. That being said, Jones is a different animal, unlike anything Cormier has faced in mixed martial arts, and there are aspects of the New York native's attack that Cormier would have trouble with.

The speculation about how Jones would react to being put on his back has lingered before his fights with Rashad Evans and Chael Sonnen, but neither fighter was able to come close to putting the young titleholder on the canvas. It would be difficult to imagine there isn't a fighter Cormier couldn't put on the mat, and that aspect makes this fight interesting.

Jones told the media at the post-fight press conference at UFC 159 that he loves to beat his opponents where they are the strongest. Whether or not he would try to out-wrestle Cormier remains to be seen, but it is an angle that would make the fight something to see.

Another noteworthy addition to a potential showdown is the back-and-forth dialogue the two fighters have shared since Cormier began talking about dropping down. Jones has largely disregarded the Louisiana native as a threat, while Cormier has publicly shared his wishes to punch Jones in the face via Twitter.

The MMA community loves a good old-fashioned grudge match, and Jones vs. Cormier would deliver in that regard.

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